Rin held her breath as Kohaku unknotted the pink furoshiki, saying: "This one is for you, Rin."
He had returned to the village only this morning after a series of demon-slaying jobs that had taken him away for weeks, but which had obviously paid him very well, for he came back bearing thoughtful gifts for everyone.
Inuyasha and Kagome were presented with a beautifully made cooking pot, which pleased the new couple as they had just moved into their own hut, and Kagome had lamented that the only pot they had was cracked, making it hard for her to cook the meals Inuyasha loved to eat.
The old village priestess, Kaede, was given lengths of plain cloth that came just in time for her to sew herself some new garments, for every item in her existing miko's wardrobe of plain white and vermilion red had a tear or patch in it somewhere, thanks to her long hours spent working in the herb and vegetable gardens, and walking through the forest with the village children to teach them how to identify useful plants and avoid poisonous ones.
Kohaku's toddler nephew and five-year-old twin nieces were given wooden and cloth toys, while their parents, Miroku and Sango, received lengths of cloth with attractive prints, which would be handy for making new summer yukata for themselves and their growing family. Kohaku also had a personal gift for his sister, a bracelet of polished coral beads, to match her name.
Shippo too got a bunch of toys, but special ones, as Kohaku explained: "The third village that hired me had a friendly fox demon living nearby, and he had been just as tormented by the mantis demon's attacks as the villagers were. He flew after Kirara and me as we were leaving, to ask how he could reward me. I turned down his offers of payment, but when I mentioned that I was friends with a young fox demon, he insisted that I give you a bunch of his trick toys. He said you would know how to use them!"
Shippo, thrilled to bits, could not resist pulling them all out of the blue cloth wrap at once and playing with them, showing them first to Rin, then to Kirara who had hunkered down at one end of the hut to enjoy her own reward of a generous pack of fish for her supper.
Rin's gift was the last one that Kohaku reached for, and she held her breath, only to exhale it in the slow silence of disappointment, when he pulled out a doll.
"I saw this at the fifth place I was hired by, a fairly big town with very skilled craftsmen in it, and I thought of you at once, Rin. It looks rather like you, don't you think?" he asked her.
Rin put on a brilliant smile and pretended to admire the doll, saying: "Thank you so much, Kohaku. It's wearing such a beautiful robe!"
The doll was skilfully made, and dressed in gorgeous silk cloth dyed gold and rose, a lovely thing that any little girl would be pleased to own. But Rin's heart sank at the sight of it because it told her that Kohaku still saw her as a child.
No one was certain what her actual years were, as she had been orphaned young, but she had begun her monthly bleeding two years ago, and at that time, Kaede, Kagome and Sango had affirmed that she was probably twelve. That meant she was fourteen now, most definitely a woman, and certainly of marriageable age.
Kagome had once told her that in the future she came from, even women of twenty were often considered too young to marry, with many choosing to wait till they were twenty-five or thirty or older, and a growing number were opting not to marry or have children at all. But while all that was very interesting and perhaps even vaguely inspiring, Rin was painfully aware that she was not from Kagome's era, and that in her world, fourteen was an age at which a good many girls were already married, or had at least been promised to a boy – or an older man. Daughters of powerful families were often settled in life even earlier, at eleven or twelve, if they had not in fact been betrothed at birth to their cousins, or to the distantly related infant sons of other noble families, for the purpose of forming or reinforcing strategic alliances.
Yet Kohaku, by now almost eighteen and more than old enough to take a wife, persisted in regarding her as a child.
Even her adoptive demon father, Sesshomaru, who from the perspective of his enormously long lifespan ought to have more reason than most for considering her an immature thing, had for the past few years acknowledged through the nature of his gifts to her that she was becoming a woman.
Silk kimono, jewellery of gold and jade, exquisite fans of cypress wood and painted fabric, and combs of soapstone and ivory had been among his more recent presents to her, with admonishments to keep them well and not squander or sell them, because he intended them to form part of her dowry for when she chose to marry.
"When you are ready to take a husband, he must know that you are no common village girl he can mistreat, but that your guardian is a taiyoukai who can make him wish he had never been born if he so much as lays a harsh hand on you," Sesshomaru had told her a year ago, in a rare speech of heartfelt candour, on a day when his emotions had run closer to the surface than was usual for him, after a particularly painful argument with his half-brother Inuyasha.
As Rin gazed upon Kohaku's handsome face over the fire on which their close-knit group cooked their supper in Kaede's hut this evening, she remembered her guardian's words and thought to herself that she was quite ready to take a husband now, but unfortunately, the young man she wished to marry would no more have considered her for a wife than he would have considered marrying the doll he had just given her.
She knew it because she had recently overheard his sister dropping a big hint to him that perhaps it was time to settle down, and the former taijiya had quite pointedly nudged him in Rin's direction by mentioning that it would be good to choose someone with whom he had shared experiences and spent significant time, and whose character he knew well. When he had refused to take that hint, Sango had added: "You travelled with Sesshomaru and Rin all the way to the underworld and back, so there's at least one girl you know very well – and she's growing up to be a very pretty, capable and good-natured young woman. Shall I ask Miroku to approach Sesshomaru or Inuyasha on your behalf about this matter?"
Rin could still remember every word of Kohaku's answer to his sister: "Thank you for your concern, Onee, but I'm really quite happy as I am. Besides, Rin is only a little girl."
Sango had sighed gently as she said: "I married Miroku when I was sixteen, but we would have tied the knot several months earlier if we hadn't been battling Naraku throughout the time we knew each other, or if Miroku had been able to get rid of the curse in his hand before then. Rin has already turned fourteen, and if you don't ask for her soon, someone else will. For all we know, Sesshomaru may have youkai suitors lined up for her, but I believe he would consider you most suitable. If you ask him before anyone else does, he is likely to give his consent."
"Onee, let's talk about such matters when I'm ready to settle down," Kohaku had replied lightly. "For one thing, you can't be certain that Sesshomaru-sama would consider me most suitable – remember that we met only because I had been ordered to kill Rin! And anyway, foisting me onto some poor child when I'm not ready to start a family of my own wouldn't be fair to her, whoever she is who eventually gets saddled with me!"
Rin now recalled that conversation she had unintentionally been in a position to eavesdrop on, and it rather killed her appetite tonight, for instead of eating, she spent most of the evening stealing glances at him and wondering what was going on in his head. He met her eyes twice over supper, and gave her a smile each time, but that was all, and it was the same friendly smile he gave to anyone else who spoke to him, or with whom he exchanged glances.
That night, after all the food had been eaten up and the bowls and pots washed, the others left Kaede's hut for their own dwellings, with Inuyasha and Kagome strolling next door to their newly built home, and Kohaku, Miroku, Sango and the three little ones going further off to their hut close to the main village lane.
Alone now with Kaede and Shippo, with whom she had lived for the past five years or so, Rin helped with the tidying-up and a bit of cleaning before the three of them pulled out their bed mats and the robes they used as blankets, and prepared to turn in for the night.
As the old priestess and the child fox-demon lay down to rest, Rin went over to the heavy camphor-wood chest Sesshomaru had given her to keep her belongings in, and put her new doll into it, laying her down on a bed of silk beside two other dolls and a toy dog made of cloth that Kohaku had previously presented to her.
By the faint light of the fading pit fire, she looked at the four toys and sighed, then locked the chest and returned to her sleeping mat, where she slipped under her robe-blanket and closed her eyes.
She fell asleep quickly, for she was tired, and that night she dreamed of Kohaku walking away from her across a landscape of mist and sand, and of being unable to catch up with him no matter how fast she ran, while Shippo in turn was running behind her, crying out to her to wait for him. But she was so engrossed in her own urgent desire to reach Kohaku that she raced on, leaving the little fox to slip further and further away from them, his cries growing fainter in the distance. Far away to her left, beyond the thick mists, the wolves that had once taken her life lifted their muzzles to the moon and howled. The sound terrified her and she ran faster, but Kohaku was out of sight, and Shippo was gone.
She woke before the dream came to its natural end, just before dawn, to find her face wet with tears. Glancing over at Shippo's sleeping form, she understood that the dream had told her something she had refused to consciously acknowledge before: Shippo had had a child's crush on her through all the years they had lived together in this village, bearing a child's hope that he could grow up to be her mate, not yet completely grasping with his young demon mind that even when she died an old woman several decades from now, he would still be a youngster who would by that time have reached an age when he would be the demon equivalent of little more than a ten-year-old human. He knew it with his head, but would not accept it with his heart.
While her own hope of catching up with Kohaku, age-wise, was a far more realistic ambition than Shippo's hope of reaching her in the future, she wondered if the emotional distance between them was as vast as the lifespan chasm between herself and Shippo, and in the weak light of dawn, with the dream-howls of the wolves still ringing in her ears, it seemed to her that there was little hope of either distance ever being bridged.
Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha, and make no money or profit from writing this fanfic; Rumiko Takahashi has all the rights to the original manga and anime and the characters in them.
This story is set in the same universe as my earlier fic, "And You, My Brother", but it is not really a sequel, so it can be read and understood without having gone through the previous story. One or two references, however, may seem obscure to those who didn't go through the earlier story, but these references will be minor ones about characters who will mostly be staying on the sidelines here, so they should not interfere with the understanding of the main storyline about Rin, Kohaku and Koga.
And a quick note about spelling: I spell the names of characters like Sesshomaru, Koga and Kikyo without the "ou" convention of indicating a difference in the vowel quality, as I am accustomed to seeing them that way in the manga. But I am inconsistent with that rule when it comes to words like "youkai" and "hanyou", because for some odd reason, they look weird to me if spelt as "yokai" and "hanyo"! Sorry if that bothers anyone!